Standing in the living room, talking to our young painter about the fine points of making the molding an exquisite cream color, I saw my hummingbird fly by.
Ethel! I ran to the other window, but Ethel Merman was too fast for me. See ya later, she called back over her shoulder. I'm gonna see if anybody else has made it back yet. We got a pool goin'. I hadn't known Ethel was a gambler, but certainly it fits.
What a fine view of her I had, if only for a second. Her tiny chest, stained at its top with the red of her throat feathers, her peculiar flying rhythm -- like that of an insect, but much more intentional. Her invisible wings. Her determined little face heading out across the street in search of her friends.
Ethel's funny about her friends, though. She wants them around but, when they come, all she wants to do is fight with them. When one comes around, she appears out of nowhere, indignantly upright as she surveys the feeder. Then she dives toward her guest and chases him or her away, as if there weren't plenty of feeders, more than enough everyone. Ethel is like an overtired child, rude to the guests her own birthday party. Except Ethel is like that all the time.
I've no wish to insult Ethel and her kind, but they're so human: we want to stay together, but we don't want to be kind to one another. Don't leave me, but let me treat you any way I like.
Somewhere in your attic, there's a dog-eared paperback with tear stains on some of the pages. It's your copy of Erich Segal's Love Story, in which the dying heroine tells us a number of times that "Love means never having to say you're sorry." You read it in college, when you were supposed to be studying. "Love means never having to say you're sorry" seemed so profoundly simple. So natural. So honest.
It sticks in my mind, after all these years, of course, because it was such utter rot. One of the very dumbest things ever written in English. Love means you never have to apologize? Never have to mend a fence? That you just stroll off, leaving the one you've hurt to figure it out on her own? In which universe?
It is to the ones we want close to us that we must show the most repentance of all. And the most forgiveness. A swallow or two of pride is worth it, if the alternative is losing the relationship altogether.
Will we offend one another in marriage, in the church, in politics? At the feeder? Guaranteed.
But then, love means always being willing to say you're sorry.
Today is the first day of the rest of your life -- another thing we used to say a lot in the late 60s. It's also the first day of our newest Farm neighborhood, Ways of the World, in which economist Carol Stone talks about what money means. Matt the Web Dude is setting it up right now -- watch the Farm's Home page and click on "Ways of the World."
This evening and tomorrow: All Saints Briarcliff, NY hosts a retreat on how to jump start a spiritual life even if you're way too busy. Barbara Crafton is the retreat leader. Briarcliff is an easy train ride -- 20 minutes or so -- from Grand Central Station. Potluck at the church tonight and retreat at Maryknoll in Ossining -- very nearby -- tomorrow. Call the church for details, 914-941-6955.
It's raining in the Northeast today. Are your kids bored? Find them a potato chip can to make their own Pennies From Heaven bank, and get them started early learning how to give. To download the artwork for the bank -- and some coloring pages -- Visit http://www.geraniumfarm.org/ and click on Pennies From Heaven.